The real challenge with student debt is that no one is actually trying to solve the problem. It’s much easier to cite how expensive things are and the rising cost of education, or to derive a blanket, one-size-fits all approach, than to actually connect individuals based on their needs and area of expertise to meaningful solutions to get them out from under their parent’s roof.
Student Debt remains a hot topic in the news and a major voting position for the upcoming presidential election. Hillary Clinton has touted a solution that “makes college free” based on household income for those who seemingly can’t afford it. This leaves those who have worked tirelessly to pay for school and repay loans gasp, while at the same time jeopardizes the value of state-driven college investment funds. This also devalues higher education to the greatest extent possible, positioning it as an entitlement rather than an earned privilege.
There is no population who pays more for education than medical students, where average tuition rates range in 2016 from $29K-$54K per year for in-state/ residents to $45K-$65K per year for out-of-state/ non-residents, not including the cost of housing or other necessary living expenses. While soon-to-be doctors collectively represent a population who are paid well, they are also a group of people who pay large sums of money for malpractice insurance, continuing education and licensing in addition to their student loans. We can’t forget that the average pediatrician or family practice doctor makes $190K per year. That may sound like a lot, but depending upon the area of the country where you live it may not go very far. Add the cost of a loan repayment and necessary protections for practice to the picture, and physicians end up on even playing fields in terms of disposable income with those who chose to pursue a career with lesser or no degree requirements.
The average amount of debt a medical student must repay upon graduation is $183K in 2016, but this number is not necessarily true for the masses. We have spent the past few years working with physicians, trying to understand the cost of a medical education even further, and the truth is that it really varies depending upon the specialization that the individual has chosen to pursue. We interviewed a radiologist with almost $400K in debt to repay. It scared him, which is why prior to completing training he had already started to pay off his loans. He talked a lot about residency interviews and the pressure to do as many as possible, taking on almost $20K of debt for applications and travel expenses alone. He is not alone. Several individuals we have spoken with have discussed how easy it is to apply to both residency and medical school- literally the click of a button. We ran the average cost per student to apply to medical school and residency, and landed somewhere in the $12-15K range. While it doesn’t sound like a lot compared to the total debt incurred over a medical student’s matriculation, it’s still a lot of money and often equivalent to other student’s total debt for the lifetime of a different degree. Aspiring docs wonder, “Yes, I can get in, but how do I pay for it?”
At (To), we’re confronting this phenomenon head-on. We have chosen to tackle the issue of providing a tool to rising and practicing physicians that will be useful in connecting individuals to their greatest and most relevant opportunities. This means helping students understand very early on the realities of location for their decision. We address things like connecting medical students with scholarship and loan repayment opportunities from the day they even begin to think about becoming a doctor. We connect physicians, old and new, with instrumental data points that have historically required very heavy lifting or have only been available to large organizations because technology was just too expensive. We have made sense of large datasets for doctors, so that they can benefit from information that will help inform the best decision no matter where they are in the transition process. For the medical student or resident thinking about family medicine, (To) helps to find locations where repayment and forgiveness are simply part of living. For the retiring physician or new mom that prefers part-time opportunities, (To) is a life balance solution.
Our goal is to start small (there are only roughly 820,000 physicians currently practicing in the United States) and scale to the larger health market, understanding that we will need to adapt our product to meet individual consumer needs balanced by changing economic demands. We can do this, because we started with location and the concept that visual problem solving for consumers is immensely valuable. When you have location in your back pocket, you are able to harness the most meaningful and powerful mechanism for decision-making.
No, physicians don’t have the same underemployment issues as other professions, but they do have significant debt burdens that are socially unforgiveable in many respects. They are also just like anyone of us who have been searching for a solution that puts us in control and provides a complete picture of opportunities no matter what their life stage. Geography is here to help, and we intend to paint that picture. (To) puts powerful location technology into the hands of medical students so that they can charter a path from med school to residency to a working location that can help with their debt situation and beyond. For a doctor confronted with retirement, (To) is a private window of opportunity that can help paint a more positive, inspirational and confident future, particularly if discussing it with others makes you feel uncomfortable. With a changing medical and healthcare environment, it’s great to have a navigation tool to help identify where opportunities for success exist. The power to make place-based decisions with personal location technology offers a very real solution for discovering the best of what’s next.